“Under normal conditions, humans absorb only about 80% of the nutrients from the food they eat,” says A. Roberto Frisancho, Ph.D., a weight-loss researcher at the University of Michigan. But, he says, when the body is deprived of nourishment, it becomes a super-efficient machine, pulling what nutrients it can from whatever food is consumed. Start eating again normally and your body may not catch up; instead it will continue to store food as fat.
This is what's known as insulin resistance. Basically, when your body doesn't respond well to insulin, it actually makes more of the stuff, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. And that can lead to fat storage, especially around the middle of your body. That's where protein comes into play: A diet high in protein may protect you against insulin resistance, says Aronne.
Snack on portion-controlled fruit, seeds and nuts. One study found that snacking on 42g of almonds per day (instead of munching on something high-carb with equal calories) helped to reduce belly fat and improved cholesterol levels. “The high levels of fibre are proven to combat excess calorie consumption later in the day,” says registered dietitian Lucy Jones.
The challenge with belly fat is that it’s not only limited to the extra layer of padding located below your skin’s surface. Belly flat also includes another layer of fat located deep within your abdomen that surrounds your internal organs. It may also be a surprise to you that having “belly fat” is considered “healthy” and that some people who have no outer belly fat, can actually be “unhealthy.”
To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. In a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people who completed a high-intensity workout regimen lost more belly fat than those who followed a low-intensity plan. (In fact, the low-intensity exercises experienced no significant changes at all.) "You need to exercise at full intensity because the end goal is to burn more calories, and high intensity exercise does just that," says Natalie Jill, a San Diego, Calif.-based certified personal trainer. High intensity workouts mean you're going all out for as long as you can. If this sounds intimidating, think of it this way: you'll burn more calories in less time.
We know: the idea of sitting with your eyes closed for anything more than, oh, three minutes isn't always realistic. But researchers say the practice helps create mindfulness, which is key to breaking destructive habits like overeating. When overweight women meditated for six weeks, they decreased their frequency of binge-eating episodes (like, meaning to eat just a handful of tortilla chips but devouring whole bag) by over 50 percent. Tiffany Cruikshank, author of Meditate Your Weight, agrees, saying that "meditation can help rewire how your brain responds to stress." And you don't have to sit in a dark room and chant. Just schedule a meditation appointment in your calendar; then find a comfortable position to sit in (not your bed — you're way more likely to fall asleep). Set a timer on your phone, close your eyes, and focus on nothing but your breath. Do it for as long as you can — starting with three to five minutes is totally fine, and it's completely normal for your mind to wander — and gradually add more time. As you advance, download the Mindfulness App or Meditation Studio for guided sessions.
It's never been a better time to jump on the kimchi and kombucha bandwagon. Gut bacteria has been a hot topic lately, and in a recent study, researchers found it plays a major role in your body mass index (BMI). Luckily, it's easy adding the good bacteria — AKA probiotics — into your diet to help get rid of belly fat: Fermented foods (think: tempeh, miso, and kefir) are more popular than ever, and you can pick them up at any grocery store.